April 13, 2023
When it comes to heart disease, believing certain myths can actually be harmful to your health.
I’d like to shine a light on what the truth actually is. Because the more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, but it disproportionately affects Black people.
• Black people have the highest heart disease rates of any racial or ethnic group.
• Black people are up to three times more likely to die from heart disease than white people.
There are many reasons for these inequities, including:
• Bias in the health care system (for instance, Black people may be less likely to get the right care if they go to the ER with chest pain)
• Higher levels of everyday stress as well as adverse childhood experiences resulting from racism
• Lack of access to health insurance
• Higher rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure
• Living in poorer areas, which is associated with a 90 percent higher risk of heart disease
• Distrust of health care providers
It’s vitally important for everyone — especially people of color — to understand their risk, get regular health checkups, and make sure their health complaints get taken seriously.
Many people seem to think heart disease is just a men’s problem. But while more men than women get heart disease, women absolutely get it, too.
• Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over age 65, just like it is in men.
• The gap between men and women is closing. By 2035, it’s projected that more than 45 percent of men and more than 44 percent of women will have heart disease.
During cardiac arrest, your heart literally stops beating, usually because of an electrical malfunction. You lose consciousness immediately. This was the case with Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin , who experienced cardiac arrest during a football game in January 2023 following a hit to the chest. In this scenario, it’s critical for bystanders to immediately call 9-1-1, start Hands-Only CPR, and see if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available nearby.
With a heart attack, the main artery leading to the heart gets blocked. This reduces the flow of oxygen to the heart and causes more and more damage to the heart muscle over time. You’re likely to still be conscious when you’re having a heart attack. But you will usually experience some symptoms:
• Chest pain or pressure
• Shortness of breath
• Feeling weak, light-headed, nauseous, faint, or breaking out in a cold sweat
• Pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, back, or one or both arms or shoulders
It’s worth pointing out that women often experience heart attacks differently than men. People of both genders are likely to have chest pain, but women are more likely to have indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain … sometimes without any obvious chest discomfort.
Cardiac arrests and heart attacks are both medical emergencies and require immediate treatment.
Exercise is vital no matter who you are, but it’s even more important if you have heart disease. Your heart is a muscle, and like any muscle, it gets weaker if you don’t exercise.
Research shows that heart attack survivors who exercise regularly, and otherwise take good care of themselves, live longer than those who don’t.
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. That’s why it’s called the “silent killer.” Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause complications including:
• Heart attacks and strokes
• Blood clots
• Heart failure
• Kidney problems
• Eye problems
• Metabolic syndrome
• Cognitive problems and dementia
The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to get it checked regularly. That’s one more reason why seeing your doctor at least once a year is so important.
We may tend to think of heart disease as a middle-aged person’s problem, but heart disease does affect young adults. And that’s happening more and more — because young people increasingly have risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Even younger adults who don’t have heart disease now are more likely to get it later if they don’t maintain healthy habits.
If you have a family history of heart disease, you might think you’re doomed to get it yourself. But while you should be extra vigilant, there is plenty you can do to keep your heart healthy.
• Talk to your doctor about your risk level. Then follow their advice.
• Get regular checkups to catch any problems before they get worse.
• Exercise. I know it can be hard to get into the habit, and easy to fall out of it. But it matters, and not just because it’s directly good for your heart. It also helps relieve stress, depression, and anxiety, and improves your mood and the quality of your sleep. And all those things, in turn, also reduce your heart disease risk.
• Be mindful of what you eat. Consuming foods thoughtlessly today may result in a heart attack later on. Here are some tips on where to start, but your doctor can give you more personalized recommendations. Most Independence Blue Cross (Independence) health plan members can get six free sessions with a nutritionist per year.
• Stop smoking. Yes, it is possible to quit. And if you’re an Independence member, we have resources that can help.
Independence Blue Cross (IBX) members can use the Provider Finder tool to locate primary care doctors, cardiologists, and other medical specialists. Visit ibx.com/providerfinder.
And IBX Registered Nurse Health Coaches are available 24/7 to help answer your non-urgent medical questions. Call 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583) (TTY: 711). When prompted for a call reason, say “Health Coach.”
Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of heart disease. Because knowledge is power.
This content was originally published on IBX Insights.
Todd C. Campbell, MD, FACS, is a Medical Director with Independence Blue Cross (IBX) in the division of utilization management. He comes to IBX as a board-certified general surgeon with over 15 years of clinical experience in a multitude of practice settings. His areas of focus include surgical quality improvement, care cost savings, utilization management, and collaboration with medical policy on surgical issues. Dr. Campbell enjoys working with the members of the team to improve the health and well-being of its members.